Eating Right = Healthy Children

Good nutrition is basic for supporting preschoolers’ healthy growth while avoiding obesity. Parents can offer the foods that children need and help them develop good eating habits. Here are some ideas for helping children eat right.

What do 2- to 5-year-old children need in their daily diet?

The amount of food that your child needs depends on his or her age, size, and activity level. Many children will eat more some days than others. Children should not be pressured to eat more than they want. As you plan the day’s meals and snacks for your child, keep the following food groups and portions in mind:

  • Grains, such as bread or cereal, at least half whole-grain: 3 to 5 ounces
  • Vegetables, of varied colors: 1 to 2 cups
  • Fruit, more whole or cut-up fruit than juice: 1 to 1½ cups
  • Milk or dairy, low-fat for most children: 2 cups
  • Meat or other protein, including beans, eggs, and peanut butter: 2 to 5 ounces
  • Oils from nuts or cooking oil: 3 teaspoons

What about sweet drinks and desserts?

It’s best to limit these but not to completely ban any food. Sweet foods should not be used as rewards. Water is the healthiest drink most of the time. Sweet drinks and foods may…

  • Interfere with your child’s appetite for more nourishing food.
  • Lead to tooth decay.
  • Make it easier for your child to consume too many calories.

How can parents teach their children good eating habits?

The best way to encourage healthy eating is by setting a good example. You can offer fresh foods to avoid preservatives and the added salt, sugar, and fat often found in processed foods. You can also plan for the family to eat together at home as often as possible. Here are some more ideas:

  • Offer a variety of foods and let your child help with food choice and preparation.
  • Encourage your child to try new foods.
  • Serve small portions, with seconds available.
  • Help your child recognize and stop when he’s had enough.

Are occasional fast food meals OK?

When busy schedules make fast food meals necessary, talk to children in advance about making healthy choices. You can also…

  • Replace soda with milk or juice, and fries with fruit, when possible.
  • Choose grilled foods rather than fried foods.
  • The opinions, resources, and referrals provided on the IEL Web site are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of medical or legal advice, or of other appropriate services. We encourage you to seek direct local assistance from a qualified professional if necessary before taking action.

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About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Child Care Center
  • Family Child Care
  • Kindergarten
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
  • Preschoolers (Age 3 Through Age 5)

Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2011